Will Smith has joined his wife, actress Jada Pinkett Smith, in vowing not to attend the February 28 Academy Awards ceremony in protest over the lack of diversity among nominees in major categories this year.
Smith’s decision comes as pressure mounts on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences to address what many are calling the organisation’s diversity crisis.
Smith told Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts on Thursday that he is “uncomfortable” with the situation. For the second year in a row, the 20 acting nominees are all white. Smith generated Oscar buzz this awards season for his work in the football drama Concussion.
“My wife’s not going. It would be awkward to show up with Charlize (Theron),” he said. “We’ve discussed it. We’re part of this community. But at this current time, we’re uncomfortable to stand there and say, ‘This is OK.’”
Smith has previously been nominated twice for best actor, for 2001’s Ali and 2006’s The Pursuit of Happyness. He lost both times to other black actors; Denzel Washington for Training Day and Forest Whitaker for The Last King of Scotland.
“To me, that was huge,” Smith said. “So when I see this list and series of nominations that come out – and everybody is fantastic. That’s the complexity of this issue. … But it feels like it’s going in the wrong direction.”
Smith said he has a responsibility to speak out or risk contributing to the problem.
“There’s a position that we hold in this community and if we’re not a part of the solution, we’re part of the problem,” Smith told Roberts. “And it was her call to action for herself and for me and for our family to be a part of the solution.”
“[For] my part, I think I have to protect and fight for the ideals that make our country and our Hollywood community great,” he continued. “And so when I look at the series of nominations of the Academy, it’s not reflecting that beauty.”
“There’s a regressive slide toward separatism, towards racial and religious disharmony,” he added. “And that’s not the Hollywood that I want to leave behind.”
The latest person to join the movement is Lupita Nyong’o, whose performance in the 2013 film 12 Years a Slave earned her the Academy Award for best supporting actress.
“I am disappointed by the lack of inclusion in this year’s Academy Awards nominations,” Nyong’o wrote, adding that the nominations spurred her to think about unconscious prejudice and what is considered prestigious.
“The awards should not dictate the terms of art in our modern society, but rather be a diverse reflection of the best of what our art has to offer today,” she wrote. “I stand with my peers who are calling for change in expanding the stories that are told and recognition of the people who tell them.”